Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Go Exploring: A Guide to Fun During Vacation Week

Posted By on Wed, Dec 21, 2016 at 1:00 PM

  • Courtesy of Montshire Museum
  • Dinosaur Revolution
My favorite part of holiday break is hanging out with the kids after the flurry of gift-giving. We love to pull on our warm boots and snow pants and explore the outdoors. But if the temps drop, or the company isn't up for bundling up in bulky outerwear, there’s plenty to do inside to keep your crew amused and on the move. We'll likely be heading to the Montshire Museum’s Dinosaur Revolution exhibit before it closes on January 2. Here are some other indoor ideas — and a few outdoors ones — to keep you entertained during the upcoming school vacation!

  • Animal admirers greet Santa’s graceful friends and learn how these marvelous creatures survive the snowy season at Reindeer Up Close at ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain. Monday, December 26, 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m. & 2 p.m. While at the science center, get answers to your kids' questions about clouds and hurricanes at the traveling exhibit, The Zula Patrol: Mission Weather.
  • Courtesy of Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center
  • "Flip, Fly, Fun!"

  • On temporary loan from the Smithsonian Institute, X-Ray Vision: Fish Inside and Out at the Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium illustrates evolutionary history through translucent photographs of ancient sea creatures, in an elegant combination of science and art. Before you plan a visit, call ahead and reserve tickets for a planetarium show, too.

  • Treat your gang to a special night out. "Flip, Fly, Fun!" at Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center in Stowe transforms the stage with a dazzling array of jugglers, acrobats, aerialists and clowns. Wednesday, December 28, 7 p.m.

  • Giddy-up! Silver bells jingle as horses trot cherry-cheeked riders over snowy rolling hills by sleigh at Shelburne Farms. Daily from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., December 24-December 31 (except Christmas day); weekends through February.

  • Courtesy of Billings Farn & Museum
  • Christmas at the Farm
  • Families spend a day at Billings Farm and Museum in Woodstock savoring the season the old-fashioned way. Partake in 19th-century crafts in a restored farmhouse, keep toasty by a woodstove and enjoy tasty treats. Bring your warmest clothes to take a tour of the barn, meet the livestock and enjoy horse-drawn sleigh or wagon rides. Daily from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., December 26-January 1.

  • Ring in 2017 at Montpelier’s New Year’s Eve, beginning with a 5K race at 2 p.m., followed by a magic show and evening fireworks. First Night Burlington makes merry with the Church Street Dancing Dragons Parade at 6 p.m.; circus arts, theater and music; and fireworks at both 6:45 p.m. and midnight. On the state’s eastern side, First Night St. Johnsbury caps the year with activities including Nimble Arts’ Ruckus Circus and the Family Fun Fair from 4-8 p.m.

  • Put your healthiest foot forward at FirstRun, a New Year’s Day 5K in Burlington. With two kids’ fun runs and costumes encouraged, this sporty morning event is a virtuous way to begin the new year.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Home Cookin': Pepparkakor, A Swedish Jultide Tradition

Posted By on Tue, Dec 20, 2016 at 7:11 AM

Pepparkakor - ASTRID LAGUE
  • Astrid Lague
  • Pepparkakor
Probably the most quintessential Swedish Christmas treat is Pepparkakor, or Swedish gingersnaps.  They come in many different variations. You can roll them out and cut them into shapes or do what this recipe calls for and simply ball them up and flatten them into disks. You can ice them or leave them plain. I prefer mine along with a nice cup of coffee.

This recipe makes a lot of cookies, so there are plenty to share! Bring some to your holiday cookie swap or simply store the dough in your freezer and pull it out when you need a little something sweet. The dough needs to be refrigerated for at least several hours before baking and keeps well in the fridge for a few days, so don't hesitate to prepare it ahead of time.

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Friday, December 16, 2016

Swedish Meatballs: Our Family's Christmas Classic

Posted By on Fri, Dec 16, 2016 at 11:56 AM

The julbord, or Swedish Christmas table - ASTRID LAGUE
  • Astrid Lague
  • The julbord, or Swedish Christmas table
My father's parents, Ingrid and Bengt, grew up in Sweden, though they met each other in the United States. When they started a family, they tried very hard to assimilate. They didn't teach their kids Swedish and they did the Boston Globe's crossword puzzle every week to improve their English vocabulary. They named their first three children James, John and Joan, which forced them to practice the English "J" sound, one that the Swedish do not use. They were proud of their Swedish heritage, but were determined to become Americans. Simple as that.

However, Christmas was a different matter.  My grandparents didn't have a turkey dinner or a Christmas ham. No, Christmas meant a Swedish Christmas buffet. My late father continued his parents' tradition with added vigor, using it as an excuse to cook all of the Swedish food he knew how to make. He would spend days in the kitchen, carefully laying out labeled serving dishes on multiple tables, ready to fill with the abundance of dishes we prepared using recipes gathered from at least half a dozen cookbooks. Visiting Swedish relatives have told us that we overdo the julbord, the Swedish word for the Christmas table.  Of course we do. We are American, after all.

Astrid's dad in the kitchen
  • Astrid's dad in the kitchen
I still vividly remember my dad's last Christmas. He was so happy to show all of us how to make the dishes he customarily made by himself. My sister was taught how to make Swedish cabbage rolls. Mom learned his secret to the Christmas liver pate. My husband and I got lessons on Swedish Christmas sausage. My other sister got the finer points of Swedish deviled eggs.

One dish that we didn't need instructions for was Swedish meatballs. The recipe is one my grandmother and grandfather perfected through the years. In America, "swedish meatballs" seem to be synonymous with any small meatball in cream sauce spiked with nutmeg. But this is not the way our family enjoys them.  My grandparents' recipe was clear: The only spices you need are salt and white pepper.

Our Swedish meatballs are made of equal parts beef and pork, ideally ground together by the butcher. Since your friendly neighborhood butcher can be hard to come by these days, we settle for buying ground meat and then running it either through a meat grinder or pulsing it in a food processor. The key is getting a finer grind of meat than what you typically find in pre-packaged ground meat.

  • Meatballs
The real fun, though, comes in the rolling. Many hands do indeed make light work, and your winter-chapped hands will thank you for the moisturizing they get from the fat in the meat. You'll want to make these meatballs small, only about a tablespoon each. And, instead of the traditional browning in a pan, my grandparents always broiled the meatballs carefully, until browned on all sides, before transferring to a pot full of pan drippings and water, where they would simmer away until fully cooked.

If you must serve these with a cream sauce, be my guest. I prefer them with a dollop of lingonberry jam (a relative of cranberry sauce), which you can find at IKEA, or the better-stocked international aisles of some grocery stores. This recipe makes about 100 meatballs, enough for a crowd. You can also freeze them after they're cooked to enjoy anytime.

My family spent a day last weekend with my mother, making Swedish meatballs and other dishes for our annual Swedish Christmas feast. We worked side by side and, somehow, 100 meatballs didn't seem that daunting at all.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Post-Election, Schools and Healthcare Providers Rally Around New Americans

Posted By on Wed, Nov 30, 2016 at 9:53 AM

  • Integrated Arts Academy principal Bobby Riley
Like millions of Americans across the nation, Bobby Riley stayed up to watch the results of the presidential election. At about 2:30 a.m on November 9, Riley, the principal of Integrated Arts Academy in Burlington’s Old North End, wrote an email to his staff.

“If the election results follow the current trajectory, we may very well have woken up with Donald J. Trump as our President-Elect this morning. The immediate implications may be profound for many of our students and families," Riley wrote. "So let us proceed with attentiveness and understanding for any anxiety and concerns that may arise.”

During the campaign, students had expressed their fears to him and his staff over Trump’s statements about registering Muslims and deporting illegal immigrants, Riley told Kids VT. Muslim and immigrant students were afraid they would not be able to remain in the U.S. if Trump became president. In turn, their friends expressed concern for their newcomer classmates and neighbors. IAA’s student population is arguably the most diverse in the state, said Riley. Forty percent of its students come from households whose first language is not English. An overwhelming majority of these families were also refugees. That's a rarity in Vermont, a state with a largely homogenous population that, according to the latest census data, is approximately 94 percent white.

Students in the diverse Winooski School District — from kindergarteners to high schoolers —expressed the same fears leading up to the election, said Kirsten Kollgaard, director of English Language Learners and Curriculum.

A significant number of students from the district come from refugee backgrounds, she said. Some were fearful of getting deported. And U.S-born students were worried that their New American friends would face deportation, said Kollgaard.

“Children pick up more than we think they do,” Kollgaard noted.

The non-stop news cycle, as well as easy access to the Internet, meant that students were inundated with election-related information, according to Riley and Kollgaard. Although schools are non-political and non-partisan, they can serve as “community centers for dialogues,” said Riley, where people should “accept multiple perspectives.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders at Integrated Arts Academy
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders at Integrated Arts Academy
The day after the election, Riley offered his school as the venue for a community potluck gathering. Sen. Bernie Sanders made a short appearance and he praised IAA for being a “great school in a very diverse community.”

Now weeks after the election, Kollgaard said the community is “still concerned” but “seemed to be relaxing.” She attributed this partly to the work that home-school liaisons — cultural brokers between the Winooski school district and New American parents — have done to reduce fears among parents. They remind parents that the U.S. is a country of laws as well as checks and balances, and that is not going to change overnight. Kollgaard said she’s been following the news very closely to keep abreast of conversations relating to immigration. Some parents expressed worry that the Affordable Care Act would be repealed and leave them vulnerable, noted Kollgaard.

Miriam Ehtesham-Cating, ELL coordinator for the Burlington School District, said her staff — known in the district as multi-lingual liaisons — have also reached out to New American parents. Ehtesham-Cating said she shared educational tools (including posts from the website Teaching Tolerance) which reinforce the values of diversity and respect, with several organizations that serve the refugee and immigrant populations. Although she hasn’t personally heard reports of harassment and bullying at schools, she has reminded teachers to remain vigilant.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Home Cookin': Apple Butter Pie

Posted By on Tue, Nov 22, 2016 at 7:00 AM

  • Astrid Lague
Every year, my sister makes her amazing version of apple butter. First, she asks the folks at Hackett's Orchard in South Hero to put together a special blend of apples for her. (I'm not sure what the mix is, but I think it might be magical.) Then, she turns the fruit into something spreadable and delicious.

Apple butter is really just a thicker version of applesauce. You don't even need added sugar because the natural sugars in the apples caramelize, making the apple butter dark and sweet, without being cloying. You can cook the apples down in a crockpot, which makes your house smell wonderful. My sister cans hers and presents a jar to everyone in our family for the holidays.

A few years ago, I decided I wanted to showcase the apple butter in a pie. In my family, we all love pumpkin pie, so why couldn't I make the same kind of pie using my sister's wonderful apple butter? And so, Apple Butter Pie was born. The dessert, with creamy custard-like filling brimming with apple-cinnamon flavor, has become a family favorite.

If you don't have homemade apple butter on hand, you can substitute with a store-bought variety. Look for one with no sugar added. Vermont-based Cold Hollow Cider Mill or Sidehill Farm make tasty versions.

This pie is ridiculously easy to make.  All you have to do is whisk together the filling, pour it in the pie crust, top with a sprinkling of cinnamon, then bake. For a fancy touch, create a decorative crust using leaf-shaped cookie cutters. This pie is the perfect way to bring a Vermonty vibe to your Thanksgiving table — though it's delicious any time of year.

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Starting Sooner: Supporting Healthy Gender Development in Preschool

Posted By on Mon, Nov 21, 2016 at 2:35 PM

  • Jess Wisloski
A friend of mine from my days in Brooklyn came to visit recently. My daughter, who’s 3 and a half, had met her twice before when she stayed with us, but asked me this time, “Is Yoga (our nickname for my friend) a boy or a girl?”

The question excited me, maybe because I had an answer. (That’s increasingly rare lately.) There’s nothing specific that would make my daughter think Yoga wasn't a woman, but her question was a sign that she may have had some discussions in her preschool class about gender identity.

“Yoga is a woman. There are things that make her a woman on the outside, like her body parts, and also it’s how she feels on the inside," I told my daughter. "I have known her for a long time, and I know that she feels like a woman on the inside.”

“Is the baby a boy or a girl?” she asked me about Yoga’s son, who is 1. “We call him a boy right now because he has the body parts that we think make him a boy,” I said. “We say ‘he’ because it’s easy for us to do that. But the baby can’t talk yet. We might find out later that he’s not a boy. He may say he feels like a girl,” I said. “Then we’ll know that the baby is a girl.”

Before I was done patting myself on the back, she began talking about the Nemo-esque fish on her puzzle. But the subject is one I’ve been thinking about, as gender issues seems to be everywhere, from preschool recess games to the presidential election.

The night we learned Donald Trump was to be our next president, a group of 30 parents and educators gathered in the basement of Annette’s Preschool in Hinesburg for a workshop entitled  “Supporting Healthy Gender Development in Preschool.” It was a facilitated panel discussion on how to support children and raise awareness — while broadening the acceptance of the varied ways kids express gender and explore identity at a very young age.

“It’s a good moment to dig deep and find community and move forward,” said moderator Dana Kaplan, director of education at Outright Vermont. Seven panelists spoke: two parents of transgender girls, three teachers, a social worker and a doctor from the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital’s Transgender Youth Program. Kids under the age of 12 are “the fastest-growing area of the work we do [at Outright Vermont] ,” Kaplan said.

Transgender children might feel they aren’t being heard or validated when talking to adults about their gender identity, but will be “insistent, persistent and consistent,” the parent speakers said. Several noted how unconscious classroom practices, like “all the girls” lining up, or a seating arrangement that’s "girl-boy, girl-boy" means youngsters must identify early, despite being unsure about how an assigned gender feels to them. Caregivers and teachers may be the first to notice a child is trying to share their identity, teachers said, and parents are sometimes slower to see it.

Dr. Jamie Mehringer, chief pediatric resident at UVM College of Medicine, said he saw many institutions bringing gender into children’s lives when it is irrelevant. “Gender segregating bathrooms in a preschool, separating kindergarteners onto a boys' or girls' soccer team… we’re forcing gender onto situations where it’s not really that useful.” Breaking down those barriers was an essential step, he explained.

A number of handouts, including tips on being an ally and becoming more gender inclusive, and a few picture books, including I Am Jazz, Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress and My Princess Boy, were spread on a table for participants to peruse. And Outright Vermont noted they held support groups for trans and gender-creative children.

I'm already starting to see my daughter's friends shift to include more girls than boys. As she gets older, the gender-related issues she deals with will undoubtedly become more complex. The workshop made me more aware of the importance of keeping an open mind when it comes to gender identity, so that I don't make assumptions or take actions that might inadvertently harm my daughter or her friends.

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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Beautiful Bounty: A Craft Fair Roundup

Posted By on Thu, Nov 10, 2016 at 9:31 AM

Orchard Valley Holiday Market
  • Orchard Valley Holiday Market
’Tis the giving season, and Vermont artisans offer an impressive array of gift options, from hand-turned wooden toys to woven scarves. As a former farmers market vendor, I visit holiday fairs every year for their high-quality goods — but also to chat with the crafters. The folks selling their wares are usually happy to talk to customers about the materials they use and their crafting process. Whether you’re looking for hand-knit mittens, a special necklace or just something one-of-a-kind, chances are you’ll find it at one of these fairs. Admission is free unless otherwise noted.

Craft Vermont hosts their annual juried show, with a selection of fine art, jewelry, wood crafts and body-care products. Friday, November 18, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday, November 19, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, November 20, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., at the Sheraton Conference Center in Burlington; $8 for a 3-day pass; free for children under 12. Bring a non-perishable item for the food shelf. Info, 872-8600.

Local artisans and specialty food producers display handcrafted gifts, including pottery, scarves, stained glass, maple syrup and chocolates at the Chandler Holiday Artisans Market. Friday, November 18, 5-7 p.m.; Saturdays, November 19-December 17, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.; Sundays, November 20-December 18, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Wednesdays, November 23-December 14, 5-7 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays, November 25-December 16, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; and Monday, December 19-Wednesday, December 21, 9 a.m.-3 pm, at the Chandler Center for the Arts in Randolph. Info, 728-6464.

The Capital City Thanksgiving Farmers Market offers fresh greens, local produce and meat, artisan cheese, honey and maple syrup, wool and other crafts, along with festive music and lunch fare. Saturday, November 19, 10 a.m.-2 pm., at Montpelier High School in Montpelier. Info, 223-2958.

Pottery, jewelry, yarn creations and more grace the tables at the Pittsford Craft Show. Saturday, November 19, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at Lothrop Elementary School in Pittsford. Info, 483-6351.

The Waldorf-inspired Orchard Valley Holiday Market boasts body-care products, fine crafts, children’s books and hand-made gifts, with savory soup and healthy snacks for sustenance. Saturday, November 19, 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier. Info, 456-7400.

The Women's Festival of Crafts features more than 80 female artisans selling an array of gift items, including cards, pottery, jewelry, origami and glass. Saturday, November 26, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday, November 27, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., at the Burlington Town Center on Church St. in Burlington.

Local crafters come out to showcase their wares at the Swanton Arts Council Craft Fair, while shoppers savor lunch and a bake sale. Saturday, November 26, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. at the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Swanton. Info, 868-6258.

Locavore lovers return to the Middlebury Farmers Holiday Market for regional produce, handmade crafts, lively music and lunch fare. Saturday, December 3, 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m., at Mary Hogan Elementary School in Middlebury. Info,

The Lake Champlain Waldorf School Holiday Fair features handcrafted gifts and children’s activities, including candle dipping, African drumming and a visit to the Snow Queen’s cave. Free admission; Small fee for some activities. Saturday, December 3, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., at the Lake Champlain Waldorf School in Shelburne. Info, 985-2827.

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Home Cookin': Pistachio Baklava with Orange Blossom Syrup

Posted By on Mon, Oct 24, 2016 at 9:21 PM

  • Astrid Lague
  • Baklava
In fifth grade, my class did a social studies unit on Greece, which culminated with a group meal. For dessert, we made baklava. Its rich and sweet layers of flaky phyllo dough, butter, honey, and nuts made an impact on me — and my taste buds.

I didn't make the decadent delicacy again until a couple of years ago, when my mother requested a Middle Eastern birthday dinner. My sister and I pored through our cookbooks, finding all sorts of delicious things to make. For dessert, I chose baklava.

For that meal, I put a few twists on the dish. My sister and mother are not overly fond of walnuts, the traditional nutty filling for baklava.  Pistachios, though?  That's another matter. And instead of honey syrup, I used a secret weapon — orange blossom syrup, made with sugar and orange blossom water, which you can find on Amazon or at a Middle Eastern market. The ingredient adds a floral sweetness that's really incredible.

For this recipe, I used chopped pistachios and pecans, as the mixture is more affordable than just pistachios. Really, you can try any combination of nuts — walnuts, of course, would be wonderful, and hazelnuts would work, too. Don't be scared to play around!

The real magic of baklava happens when you pour the warm syrup over the baked layers of phyllo and nuts. It sizzles in the most satisfactory way as the syrup works its way into all of the crevices of the phyllo. The end product is a sticky, sweet confection that is undeniably delicious. Kids love it, adults love it, and the whole process is a whole lot easier than you'd think. This is one to try at home, if for no other reason than that magic sizzle.

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Monday, October 17, 2016

Home Cookin': Easy Spanikopita Rolls

Posted By on Mon, Oct 17, 2016 at 11:17 AM

Finished spanikopita rolls - ASTRID LAGUE
  • Astrid Lague
  • Finished spanikopita rolls
Not everyone grows up around a wide array of international foods. My husband, Chris, was raised in a mainly meat-and-potatoes household. He barely ate vegetables when we started dating as teenagers.  

Consequently, he wasn't prepared for the onslaught of flavors he encountered at my family's dinner table. He was okay with peppers and onions — and, occasionally, carrots and peas — but, beyond that, he found eating at my house a bit daunting.

Luckily, he liked me, so he stuck around.

After we had been dating six months, I left to spend my junior year in Sweden, where I lived with a cousin. This was before the golden age of email and Skype but, amazingly, he still stuck around. The next year, we traveled to Sweden together so I could show him the country. 

And here begins the story of how my husband came to appreciate spinach. The family we were staying with in Stockholm served spinach.  So did the family we were staying with in another town. What did we eat on the airplane ride home?  You guessed it — spinach.

During our week in Sweden, I think we were served spinach at least five times.  By the end of the trip, Chris decided that he didn't mind the leafy green after all.

Years later, I found out that my mother had secretly told the Swedes to serve us as much spinach as possible, and that she then told Chris that it was very important to try everything he was offered, lest he be seen as incredibly impolite.

I don't think she had any sway with the airline, but I could be wrong.

Now, many years later, spinach is one of my husband's favorite vegetables, and spanikopita is one of his favorite ways to eat it.

In this Greek dish, flaky phyllo dough surrounds a savory filling of spinach and briny feta cheese. It's a perennial favorite in our household. Even better? Our kids love to help make it.

You can make spanikopita as a traditional pie, or in little triangle shapes, but my favorite preparation is spanikopita rolls, similar to egg rolls. Instead of using copious amounts of butter to crisp up each layer of phyllo, we use a butter-flavored cooking spray. (You can use butter if you like. It just takes a bit more time because you have to brush it on to each sheet of phyllo.)

Most markets stock frozen phyllo dough. If you have extra spanikopita rolls, just freeze them, then let them thaw a bit before baking (just add a couple of minutes to the cooking time). Or bake them all at once, and keep any extras in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Pro tip: They make a great addition to school lunches.

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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

No Charges in Waterbury Daycare Drowning

Posted By and on Tue, Oct 4, 2016 at 11:17 AM

  • Courtesy of Reava Burnor
  • Parker Berry
Criminal charges will not be filed in connection to the drowning death of a 3-year-old boy at a Waterbury daycare facility in February, Washington County State's Attorney Scott Williams announced Monday.

Parker Berry, of Hyde Park, wandered away from Elephant in the Field daycare center and was found unconscious in a nearby brook. The boy died two days later.

The Department of Children and Family Services revoked Elephant in the Field's daycare license after the incident.

Williams said that actions already taken against the daycare will "remove future risk to public safety."

"I have determined that none of the actions or inactions of adults involved with this terribly sad incident qualify as demonstrating a criminal mental state, including criminal recklessness or negligence," Williams said in a prepared statement.

Earlier this year, Williams said that criminal charges were not warranted against a para-educator tasked with caring for Parker.

Williams said that he told the boy's parents about his decision and "they have expressed their satisfaction with the process and decision making."

Kids VT wrote about the home-based daycare program, located on a 42-acre farm, in 2014. 

A version of this post originally appeared in Seven Days.

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